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I don’t know.
It was roughly the afternoon.
I was slouched on a stool, passing time at The Beauty Bar on 19th and Mission,
and this boatload of summer-white-wearing navy seamen thronged in.
One of these tipsy sailors ordered a round for the bar.
I was in the midst of contemplating the terrible and wonderful music of laundromats,
when one of the white-suited boys assumed a position of great posture on the stool next to me.
I’d taken a belt of rye for free from them, so I thanked him
for his service.
“It’s all on us. Don’t worry, man. This place is a real blast. What do you do?”
I hefted the shot of rye, looked from it to him, and drank it down.
“Mostly that.”
He laughed,
an innocent corny laugh of youth and stiff nerves.
“You’re interesting, man. Really an interesting guy.”
“It takes a long time to get that way.”
I buoyed my beer to a good level, the can slightly crushed from my hardy grip, and continued,
“You can’t be interesting when you’re young. You haven’t lived long enough yet to have anything of interest about you. Me? Hell. You give me more than one choice, I’ll always make the wrong one.”
His face slimmed into disarray as his cohorts whooped and hollered,
“Well, you’re a nice guy for talking to me.”
“I’m a nice guy? Really? More like I’m the sort who manhandles sentences and malaprops stuff like, ‘Tarbender, another deer on the bubble.’ And I’ve even gone and forgotten my way to remember things. Damn. Now. I will be just outside indulging an itch for tobacco if you need me for anything else.”
He seemed agreeable to this,
and I shoved off and walked outside,
the scent of freshly pressed navy twill
mixed with the usual ammonia and bleach and vomit of the place
pleasantly suffocating me.
I felt like slapping some of those pink-cheeked kids on the back,
as they swarmed and chattered and crowded up the bar,
but thought better of this old-fashioned empty gesture.
Sometimes it’s the things you don’t do
that matter the most.
I smoked a cigarette outside,
watched a homeless man shiver and moan,
“Where is your heart on all these Tuesdays and Thursdays? Who is coming to dinner then? It’s suppertime tonight!” at a family of four just out for a stroll on Mission Street;
and then crumble into a fetal position against the wall,
softly crying into his calloused hands.
The failing sunlight was doing a real number on the building tops,
scaling and slathering the former Miracle-Mile apartments and storefronts, and ex-theater marquees now advertising makeshift churches or parking lots,
with honeyed streaks of syrupy lemon and gold.
I listened to the lively sounds coming from the bar,
all those naïve navy boys making a mess of it in there,
having the time of their lives,
doing Jägerbombs and putting catchy hits on the jukebox,
singing along, dancing, clinking glasses,
not worried about a damn thing in the world.
The whole raucous and tame display
made me smile.
I was young once too.
Maybe not like they were,
harvesting their future for the bloody hands of destiny,
pawns in some rich men’s game of conquering.
But, it was all the same.
We all end up who we are, over and over,
not matter what choices we get,
or what ones we chance to take.
I smoked my cigarette and leaned against the wall,
watching the day slowly change its outfit
to evening’s solemn blues;
and I thought about all the young folks all over,
testing out the limits of what it means to be an adult —
unconcerned about tomorrow’s horror and loss,
the hardships and mishaps of growing older and older —
free and alive in way that you can’t quite describe to someone else:
that gut-blooming feeling that enlivens without regret.
I was glad to not be one of them anymore.
But then,
when I went back inside the bar,
I realized that I was.

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